Commercial Building Leaders Help Chicago to Attain Energy Goals

The city’s Retrofit Chicago Commercial Buildings Initiative aims to reduce commercial energy use in participating buildings by 20% over the next five years. Two major commercial building operators—JLL and Urban Innovations—have together reduced energy use by nearly 3 million kilowatt hours annually, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

77 W. Wacker Drive, managed by JLL. Photo by Chicago Architecture Today.

77 W. Wacker Drive, managed by JLL. Photo by Chicago Architecture Today.

“The City of Chicago, through our Retrofit Chicago initiative, is reducing energy use in commercial, residential and municipal buildings,” said Karen Weigert, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Chicago. “JLL and Urban Innovations—along with EDF Climate Corps—are leading the charge by identifying and implementing real, sustainable energy reduction initiatives. Through their work in Retrofit Chicago, they are demonstrating the practical and competitive benefits of energy efficiency in commercial real estate portfolios.”

Among the properties that JLL operates is 77 West Wacker Drive, a 50-story Class A building along the Chicago River. With its all-electric infrastructure, JLL business and operational leaders partnered to identify where energy savings could be generated. By driving transparency into the data, customizing the building’s automation system, and engaging tenants on energy use, JLL reduced its energy use by 2 million kilowatt hours and decreased its electrical expenses by 47%.

“So often, businesses think of environmental programs as being costly, time-consuming and resource intensive,” said Myrna Coronado-Brookover, JLL’s senior vice president and general manager. “We have found just the opposite to be true; by actively partnering with our engineering staff and our tenants, we were able to become more sustainable while increasing our competitiveness.”

440 N. Wells, operated by Urban Innovations. Photo by Barry Rustin.

440 N. Wells, operated by Urban Innovations. Photo by Barry Rustin.

Urban Innovations, like many Class B building operators, has a diverse portfolio of properties. By tracking which of their 12 Chicago properties offered the most immediate opportunities for energy savings, the company made strategic choices to upgrade equipment in some buildings as part of regular maintenance and repair, while completely redeveloping other properties. As a result, Urban Innovations has reduced energy use annually by 990,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, saving $70,000 a year.

“Education and transparency into the data was the key to success,” said Alfrieda Green, Urban Innovations’ vice president of property management. “Once we knew which properties provided us with the greatest opportunities, we found that it was a win-win situation. Energy efficiency has saved us money, increased our sustainability into the future, and ultimately made our buildings more attractive to top tenants.”

Both JLL and Urban Innovations were able to identify and achieve significant energy reductions as host organizations of this summer’s Climate Corps fellowship, an initiative of the Environmental Defense Fund. The two organizations will hold local “Lunch & Learn” meetings in January for other commercial property owners, operators, managers and facility engineers to learn from their experiences and successes, and to encourage further energy efficiency around the city.

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